Series: A Savage Continual Thunder

Confederates Taking Charge

On August 30th, 1862, Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, in command of the Army of Northern Virginia's right wing, pushed his massive columns forward, smashing into the Union left. The Union Army of Virginia faced annihilation. Only a heroic stand by northern troops, first on Chinn Ridge and then once again on Henry Hill, bought time for the army to make a hasty retreat. Finally, under cover of darkness the defeated Federals withdrew across Bull Run towards the defenses of Washington.

"We are driven to protect our own country by transferring the seat of war to that of an enemy who pursues us with a relentless and apparently aimless hostility." Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Southern Success

Photograph of Confederate President Jefferson Davis
Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Library of Congress

The next day, Union resistance at the Battle of Chantilly blunted the Confederate's advance toward Washington, D.C., but did little to weaken southern confidence. Even though the army under Gen. Robert E. Lee was outnumbered and undersupplied, Lee knew that if the Confederacy was going to win the war and gain independence, more audacious action was necessary. Taking advantage of the victory at the Second Battle of Manassas, Lee, his generals, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis decided that now was the time to strike. Perhaps an invasion into the North could gain the Confederacy international recognition and weaken Union morale to the point that they would sue for peace.

Taking the War North

Photograph of Confederate General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee

Library of Congress

Until the launch of the Maryland Campaign, every major battle of the war had been fought on southern soil. The citizens of Virginia had seen their homes occupied and their farms stripped again and again. Defending that land and those people had been the stated mission of Confederate officers and soldiers. Now, they would be the invaders. Some of the men expressed opposition to this, but many realized that if the Confederacy was going to win the war, a major victory on Union soil was necessary. And most realized that the chances of winning that victory were greatly increased by having Lee leading them.

"The present seems to be the most propitious time since the commencement of the war for the Confederate Army to enter Maryland"
- General Robert E. Lee